An IN THE AIR Excerpt: “Yellow Skies” by Alisha Costanzo

Torn and cracked leather shook under my butt and legs as I pushed the drill forward, dropping it deeper, checking for water, dropping it, checking. Plumes of soil settled dry.

Another few feet, and no traces of moisture revealed themselves.

It’s what I’d feared for the last few days. We’d tapped this well and would have to search for a new one. Or, I would. Probably drag Uncle Arrow out with me. He had some hokey tests with this piece of wood he called a divining rod.

It’s worked so far, but his stories of a man showing it to him down in the Gulf didn’t ease my skepticism of the ritual.

Before trekking back to camp, I rode the buggy around the immediate area, looking for any other signs of water—small cacti, moss, discolored spots, splits, or critters.

On my second pass around the perimeter, dark stains dotted a small stretch beyond, so I shut down the vehicle and pulled a metal pole from my tools. Long and thin, I could poke the spots easily and a long ways without disrupting whatever lay within.

Never knew when you might find a gas pocket waiting to take you out.

The first blot was too small to poke, but it lead me out to a wider section.

My dowel pulled back oil.

Useless.

Well, not useless entirely, but we canned so much of it and used so little.

We needed water.

After packing up, I took one more loop around the zone before bustling back to the small, squat building a group of us had made home. We found it packed with faded books, most of them illegible from the plagues, but I pulled the ones I could decipher and kept them in my room, so Youngblood and the brats had someone to read to them. The rest turned to fire in the cold weather and to cook lizards. Sometimes, we pack valuable and breakable things or use others to track maps and signs of water.

Most of it was burnt.

We did the atmosphere and ourselves no favors.

The brats squalored when I stepped through the double set of doors, jumping at my feet before I pulled the mask away from my face. Three of them, all siblings, danced on long thin limbs, wheezing my name in chant: Tammy. Tammy. Tammy.

“Did you just get your rations? Yous have too much energy.”

They circled me, giggling and coughing.

“What you want?”

“Come read us a story.” The middlest tugged on the front of my suit, his hair a round puff of frizz.

“Don’t you have chores?”

Please,” they sang in unison.

“Cousin is ill in bed,” said the eldest.

“Come read to us.”

“It’s almost nap time.” The littlest rubbed her eyes.

I dug my fingers into my brows and laughed. “Fine. Grab your cushions and meet me in front of your rooms. I’ve to talk to Uncle Arrow and change my clothes. On with yous.”

They departed, scattering to their rooms to grab cushions and blankets to sprawl out on. If Youngblood was sick, they’d fall asleep on his floor by the time stories were done.

In my room, I opened one of the three bottles on my desk—my daily allowance for my size and excursion. The yellow tint and dead smell didn’t deter me as much as it should. Not after the long ride through the dust.

Breathing through my mouth dissipated the lingering aftertaste, but I didn’t dwell on it or I’d only dehydrate myself.

Stepping out of my suit, I replaced the thin, soiled top for a less dirty one and slipped on a pair of loose pants. Comfortable for sitting cross-legged. I used a hanger to keep from spreading the dirt too far into my other things. I’d shake it out after the next round of rations.

The top book made it under my arm on my way out the door.

Around the corner and two rooms down, I found Uncle Arrow in his quarters, messing with one of the pumping units we used for the bigger vehicles. His dark hands creased with black oil, and I handed him a 5/16” hex-head nut driver.

He grunted thanks, popped a compartment and a filter, and cleared out some mess before he set it aside and cleaned his hands.

“Always nice to have someone around who knows what they’re doing.”

“Yeah. No problem. Kind of why I’m here. I’m going to need you and that water-seeking twig on my next trip out.”

“Divining rod.”

“Sure, but I’m not calling it that.”

Uncle Arrow’s laugh warmed the room a little. Not really our uncle like Youngblood wasn’t the brats’ cousin. But know someone who knows someone and what other words have we to call them family? Uncle Arrow treated me nicely and with respect, and he kept Mother off my back, especially when I mouthed off.

Not like she was my real mother, or acted like one, but we had to call her such since she kept the place running. All I did was fetch her precious water from a dried-up wasteland.

“The new spot is dry already?”

“No. I just want to waste half of your day looking for a new one to pass the time.”

“Good point.” He sipped a bottle of tinted water and shook away the taste. “Go read to the brats, and we’ll look over the maps after rations.”

I nodded and backed out of his room.

 

 

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Wife of a disabled veteran, Alisha Costanzo writes about PTSD, environmentalism, violence, and conformity. With a mutually-fueled passion to change the world one person at a time, she often writes about her husband’s rants, conspiracy theories, and trains of logic that seem absurd until the connections line up, and mixes them into her obsession with cooking, coffee, and pop-culture monsters.

Most of all, Alisha is passionate about satire and how it can be used as a tool for learning and criticism. Her stories are aware of themselves and determined not to give readers what they think they want.

A New York transplant, she lives in Oklahoma, teaches English and rhetoric at a local university, runs and edits at Transmundane Press, LLC, and navigates the crazy that comes with her husband, fifteen-year-old step son, six cats, six lizards, so many mice mice, three toads, two snakes, and a water turtle in the master bath, all confined under one roof.

 

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